“Gauge your sound and internal experience against the benchmarks of excellence.”
–The Musician’s Way, p.58
How can we master unfamiliar music in ways that are both soulful and efficient?
In short, we have to be proficient with the 3 components of deep practice: Discovery, Repetition, and Evaluation.
To begin working on a new piece, deep practicers map out a composition’s expressive and technical features, a process I term Discovery.
It’s best to explore the expressive content of a piece first so that our technical choices fit a composition’s content. Pianist Leon Fleisher concurs: “Once you have a clear musical intention, then you can set up some kind of physical choreography.” (The Musician’s Way, p.46)
For example, after getting an overview of a piece, we instrumentalists might isolate a phrase and then expressively sing rhythms and melodies. Following that, we can determine fingerings, bowings and so forth that match our interpretive ideas.
We repeat during discovery and as a piece matures. Above all, it’s crucial that we repeat accurately and expressively.
When we encounter a passage with tricky rhythms, let’s say, we typically vocalize the rhythms several times with the aid of a metronome. Yet we must never do so mechanically. Instead, we should express the rhythmic character and forward motion of each gesture.
Next, we’d repeat the passage on our instrument at a slow tempo. After that, we’d tackle adjoining passages and then link the passages, repeating the larger chunk a time or two. As large spans of a piece feel secure, we reiterate those portions at increasingly faster tempos.
How many times should we repeat a segment of music in practice? With deep discovery, our musical maps are so vivid that we don’t have to repeat much for passages to feel solid.
In fact, I advocate a “3-times rule:” if our mapping is thorough, a musical segment not overlong, and our tempo slow enough, it should suffice for us to do three error-free repetitions. That said, complex phrases may warrant five or more runs.
We need to remember, too, that repetition forms lasting mental pathways, so our repetitions should instill the habits of excellence that we need on stage. Of course, we’re going to make mistakes in practice, and mistakes help us grow. But we must not repeat mistakes.
Evaluation forms the foundation of creative work. At every moment, we should compare how we sound and feel against the standards of excellence.
We need to keep our senses on alert, listening intently and directing our music making with soulful awareness.
In the end, deep practice makes performing so easy that we can be free on stage, opening the door to limitless artistic expression.
© 2014 Gerald Klickstein
Photo © Alenavlad, licensed from Shutterstock.com